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NFL 2019: Saints aim to overcome past playoff devastation

Thu Aug 22 12:08pm ET
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer

Players: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Jared Cook, Mark Ingram, Latavius Murray, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton walks on the sideline in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Minnesota Vikings in New Orleans, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


In this Nov. 11, 2018, file photo, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs in for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half of an NFL football game, in Cincinnati. The NFC Souths reputation as the NFLs most balanced division has taken a hit. The New Orleans Saints two-year run as division champion, including a dominant showing in 2018, has left other teams eager to prove there is still parity in the South. (AP Photo/Frank Victores, File)


New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) runs during a joint NFL football practice with the Los Angeles Chargers in Costa Mesa, Calif., Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)


New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, right, looks to throw a pass during a joint NFL football practice with the Los Angeles Chargers in Costa Mesa, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)


NEW ORLEANS (AP) Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints may very well be on a revenge tour this season, whether they frame it that way publicly or not.

The Saints are among the favorites to contend for the Super Bowl berth they were agonizingly denied last season by both the Los Angeles Rams and an untimely officiating lapse in the NFC title game. And that heartbreak came just one year after their previous postseason run was stunningly halted by the first decisive touchdown on the final snap of regulation in NFL playoff history - on a 61-yard passing play, no less.

Brees, who is 40 and entering his 19th season, asserts that professionalism demands compartmentalization, so that disgust about the recent past doesn't undermine one's focus on the work at hand as a new season arrives.

At the same time, the record-setting quarterback doesn't pretend bad memories can be wiped clean from one's mind, or have no motivational value going forward.

''It's not like you just totally forget that,'' Brees said. ''There's defining moments from your career - I certainly know I've had my fair share - that I can reflect back on and still sting a little bit, still burn a little bit, and still motivate, and still inspire. That's part of what keeps you going.''

The NFL changed rules allowing coaches to ask for replay review when they feel a call was missed, as the NFL has acknowledged two calls were when a Rams defender got away with pass interference and a helmet hit late in the NFC title game. That change comes too late to make up for the non-call that helped the Rams rally to tie the game with 15 seconds left and win in overtime.

But the good news for the Saints is that much of the core of their past two playoff squads is young and remains intact.

Leading receiver Michael Thomas, who arrived at camp after getting a big contract extension, is entering just his fourth season, while dynamic running back Alvin Kamara, top cornerback Marshon Lattimore and starting right tackle Ryan Ramczyk are in Year 3.

Most of their veteran leaders are back as well, from 2017 All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan and middle linebacker Demario Davis on defense to Brees and left tackle Terron Armstead on offense.

The Saints also made a notable addition to coach Sean Payton's offensive arsenal in free agency when they signed tight end Jared Cook, who had career-best receiving numbers in Oakland last season and has quickly demonstrated chemistry with Brees in camp.

A third straight trip to the playoffs looks likely, but Brees figures it's hardly appropriate to start thinking about that before the regular season has even begun.

Every team except the defending Super Bowl champion ''fell off the mountain,'' Brees said. ''They're sitting down at the bottom and now here goes the climb, one step at a time. So I'm not thinking about February of 2020 right now. That's a long way away and that's an overwhelming feeling if you decide to look to there. So I'm just focused on the here and now.''

Here are some other prominent story lines for the 2019 Saints:

END GAME

The Saints want to punish teams for blocking schemes that overemphasize stopping Jordan's edge rush. One hope is that second-year defensive end Marcus Davenport fulfills more of the potential New Orleans saw in him when it traded up to select him in the first round of the 2018 draft. Davenport shared snaps last season with Alex Okafor, and his 4 + sacks tied with defensive tackle David Onyemata for fourth on the club. But the Saints let Okafor walk in free agency, opening the way for Davenport to become more of a full-time end.

''The second year into it, I think he's a lot more comfortable with where he's aligned in the technique involved,'' Payton said.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was second on the Saints with eight sacks, but is working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon. New Orleans brought in former New England Patriot Malcom Brown to help fill that void.

CONTRACT YEAR

Brees, the NFL's career leader in yards passing and completions , is in the final season of his contract. But heading into 2019, there's been no clear sign of decline. If anything, he's playing smarter. He had one of the most efficient seasons in NFL history in 2018, completing an NFL record 74.4% of his passes. His 32 touchdowns to just five interceptions was the second-best such ratio in the NFL last season behind Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. His 3,992 yards passing were his lowest yet since joining the Saints in 2006, but he sat out the inconsequential last game of the regular season. Plus, Payton's play calling took advantage of one of the NFL's top running games, particularly with late-game leads.

''It's just finding ways to stay young, feel young, recover, be as efficient as possible. Having the body operate as efficient as possible,'' Brees said. ''I'm pretty aware of what you lose with the aging process. And so, everything I do from a training perspective, recovery perspective, is to combat that.''

CENTER OF ATTENTION

The Saints responded to the retirement of veteran center Max Unger by signing free agent Nick Easton and then using their top overall draft pick - in the second round - to take Texas A&M's Erik McCoy. Based on snaps in training camp and in the preseason, it looks like the rookie will be snapping the ball to Brees in the opener. Payton has said that even if Easton doesn't start, his ability to play both guard and center would give the Saints favorable depth along the interior offensive line.

INGRAM'S ABSENCE

The Saints' biggest loss in free agency appeared to be running back Mark Ingram, who shared snaps with Kamara to great effect the past two seasons. With Ingram leaving for Baltimore, the Saints brought in former Minnesota running back Latavius Murray. Murray hasn't been used as a receiver out of the backfield as much in his career as the Saints did with Ingram, but Payton said New Orleans is hoping Murray will prove competent in the short passing game to keep defenses off balance.

Player Notes
D.J. Moore Sep 19 12:00am ET

Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore will look to keep things going on Sunday in Arizona. Moore has been one of the focal points for Carolina this season, currently leading the team in targets (24), receptions (16), and receiving yards (165). Despite the potential start of sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen, who would fill in for Cam Newton (foot) if he is unable to go, Moore will still likely produce. The 22-year-old racked up six receptions (15 targets) for 100 yards with Allen under center in 2018. He should remain a starter in a majority of fantasy leagues even if Newton isn't able to suit up on Sunday against a lousy Cardinals Defense.

From RotoBaller

Christian McCaffrey Sep 18 11:40pm ET

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey will surely rebound in Week 3 against the Cardinals. After a dismal performance against the Buccaneers that saw the 23-year-old rush for just 37 yards on 16 attempts, the Panthers will next square off with one of the lousiest defensive teams in the league on Sunday. With the Cardinals allowing a league-worst 30.38 fantasy points per game to opposing backs this season, McCaffrey is a must-start in all fantasy formats in addition to being featured in daily contests. Get him in your lineup.

From RotoBaller

Paul Perkins Sep 18 11:13pm ET

Detroit Lions RB Paul Perkins is learning his new team's playbook this week, and he is excited about the chance and wants to be explosive. 'I'm going to go home and look over some stuff,' he said Wednesday, Sept. 18. 'But the offense seems pretty dope and it seems it can get a lot of guys the ball.'

Fantasy Spin: Initially Perkins is likely to see a bulk of his action on special teams, where he has excelled. He missed the 2018 season due to a pectoral injury. For now, avoid Perkins in all fantasy formats, but stash the name away. He might not be quite done yet, and could re-emerge as a fantasy option if injuries strike in the Motor City.

From TheHuddle

Shaquil Barrett Sep 18 11:13pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers DE Shaquil Barrett earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his three-sack performance in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers.

From TheHuddle

Taysom Hill Sep 18 10:53pm ET

New Orleans Saints QBs Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill will both play in Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks, with head coach Sean Payton declining to name a starter Wednesday, Sept. 18.

Fantasy Spin: Bridgewater is likely to play more snaps, with Hill subbing in for his regular assortment of Wildcat formation plays, especially in short-yardage situations and plays near the goal line. For those looking for a streaming option in fantasy, Bridgewater is certainly the better bet.

From TheHuddle

Kenny Golladay Sep 18 10:20pm ET

Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay is in line to have a big day Sunday when the Lions take on the Eagles in Philadelphia. Golladay is coming off a 117-yard, one-touchdown performance and should be able to build off those numbers against a leaky Eagles secondary. Through the first two games of the season, the Eagles have already allowed three 100-yard receiving performances and six passing touchdowns and are seemingly not able to stop anything through the air. That bodes well for Golladay's chances in this matchup. Golladay can be considered a solid WR2 and has a very good opportunity to exceed the 100-yard mark for a second straight game.

From RotoBaller

Derek Carr Sep 18 9:20pm ET

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr failed to capitalize in a juicy Week 2 matchup, making him difficult to trust with a grimmer task ahead in Week 3. The team will travel to take on a stout Vikings Defense who finished third-best in 2018 giving up 196 passing YPG. Carr has looked more comfortable overall in year two under Head Coach John Gruden, but the deck is stacked against him this week as eight-point underdogs. He could save face with some late garbage time points, but he shouldn't be relied upon in any fantasy format in Week 3.

From RotoBaller

Tre'Quan Smith Sep 18 9:00pm ET

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday. Smith got his legs caught underneath him at the end of the Week 2 loss to the Rams and could be questionable for Week 3 against the Seahawks. The 23-year-old has only five receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown through two weeks and is fourth in the pecking order behind Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn and Jared Cook, making him extremely inconsistent for fantasy owners in much deeper leagues. With Teddy Bridgewater now at quarterback with Drew Brees (thumb) out at least six weeks, Smith should be planted on benches where he's owned.

From RotoBaller

Darren Waller Sep 18 9:00pm ET

Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller has displayed a positive chemistry between himself and quarterback Derek Carr, and it should only grow stronger throughout the season. He currently leads the team with 13 catches and 15 targets through two games while showing a slick pair of hands and a dynamic athletic ability. With the Raiders playing a tough road contest this week versus the Vikings, Waller's ceiling isn't as high, but he should see plenty of volume as eight-point underdogs. Minnesota gave up a 9/77/0 line to Falcons tight end Austin Hooper in Week 1 while they played catch-up, giving Waller a projection somewhere in this neighborhood for Week 3.

From RotoBaller

Trevor Davis Sep 18 9:00pm ET

The Oakland Raiders acquired wide receiver/kick returner Trevor Davis from the Packers on Wednesday, according to a source. The speed demon is one of the league's better punt and kick returners and should compete for a spot on the receiver depth chart in Oakland. The 26-year-old had just one catch for 28 yards in two games this year in Green Bay and has nine receptions for 122 yards and one touchdown in 29 career games played. He'll mainly be used on special teams in his new home and can be ignored for fantasy purposes unless you're in a really deep league that counts return yardage.

From RotoBaller

Matthew Stafford Sep 18 8:50pm ET

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will look to rebound after a so-so Week 2 performance when the Lions take on the Eagles in Week 3. Stafford faces an Eagles secondary that has allowed 680 yards through the first two weeks of the season, which places them just above the Raiders for second-most yards allowed through the air. He has also thrown the ball a healthy 75 times through two games, and this matchup is lining up to follow that trend. Stafford's floor can be considered in the high-upside QB2 range this week in a matchup where he should have no problem moving the ball.

From RotoBaller

Michael Badgley Sep 18 8:50pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (knee) and kicker Michael Badgley (groin) were both limited in practice on Wednesday. Allen should be fine to play in Week 3 against the Texans against a secondary that consistently gets burned deep. The Chargers top wideout ranks third in the NFL after two games with 25 total targets. Allen is a top-five fantasy receiver this Sunday. Badgley has yet to kick in a game this year but is getting closer to making his season debut. He can't be trusted in fantasy until he proves his health. Ty Long has been filling in but has made just two of his four field-goal attempts, including two big misses in the Week 2 loss to the Lions.

From RotoBaller

David Njoku Sep 18 8:40pm ET

Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (concussion, wrist) has a broken wrist that could require surgery, according to a source. Njoku was also knocked out of the Monday night game after suffering a concussion. He is seeking more opinions to determine if surgery is necessary and how long he'd be sidelined if he goes under the knife. It's a tough break for Njoku's owners, as they'll be without him for multiple weeks at least. Demetrius Harris is Cleveland's backup tight end, but he's unlikely to become a big part of the weekly game plan. Quarterback Baker Mayfield takes a slight hit in value, while wide receiver Jarvis Landry could be used more underneath and in the middle of the field.

From RotoBaller

Aaron Donald Sep 18 8:33pm ET

Los Angeles Rams C Austin Blythe (ankle) and TE Tyler Higbee (chest) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Sept. 18. RB Malcolm Brown (ankle) and DT Aaron Donald (back) were limited during practice.

From TheHuddle

Tevin Coleman Sep 18 8:23pm ET

San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (ankle), DE Dee Ford (quadriceps), S Jaquiski Tartt (ankle), WR Jalen Hurd (back), OT Joe Staley (leg) and WR Trent Taylor (foot) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Sept. 18. DE Nick Bosa (ankle) and S Jimmie Ward (hand) were limited during practice.

From TheHuddle

Kerryon Johnson Sep 18 8:20pm ET

Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson could be in line for a big Week 3 performance against an ailing Philadelphia Eagles squad. Johnson should be able to do some damage through the air against an Eagles Defense that has allowed 15 receptions to running backs through the first two weeks of the season, and with Eagles defensive tackle Tim Jernigan sitting out this week, finding holes on the ground will be an easier task as well. Johnson has the chance to see an expanded workload after the recent release of C.J. Anderson and will slot in as a high-upside RB2 in what could be a shootout at the Linc.

From RotoBaller

Kyle Allen Sep 18 8:20pm ET

Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen is trending toward starting over Cam Newton (foot) in Week 3 against the Cardinals. Newton aggravated a foot injury he initially suffered in the preseason and missed practice on Wednesday. He was also seen in a walking boot, so it's looking doubtful that he plays this Sunday in Week 3. If Newton is inactive, it'll be a downgrade to all Panthers receivers, while running back Christian McCaffrey will likely be heavily utilized to take pressure off Allen. Even in a good matchup with Arizona's soft secondary, Allen would be a last-gasp QB2 for fantasy purposes.

From RotoBaller

Tyler Lockett Sep 18 8:03pm ET

Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett (non-injury) was limited during practice Wednesday, Sept. 18.

Fantasy Spin: Lockett caught 10 of his 12 targets last week and finished with 79 yards. He will continue to be the main target in the passing game for the Seahawks and can be a No. 2 or No. 3 fantasy receiver.

From TheHuddle

K.J. Wright Sep 18 8:03pm ET

Seattle Seahawks OG Ethan Pocic (neck), CB Neiko Thorpe (hamstring), S Tedric Thompson (hamstring) and OG D.J. Fluker (ankle) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Sept. 18. OT Duane Brown (non-injury), DE Jadeveon Clowney (non-injury), LB K.J. Wright (non-injury), WR Jaron Brown (toe), OG Mike Iupati (foot), DE Quinton Jefferson (hip), WR David Moore (shoulder), DT Poona Ford (calf) and C Joey Hunt (ankle) were limited during practice. DE Ziggy Ansah (shoulder) fully participated in practice.

From TheHuddle

Ted Ginn Jr. Sep 18 7:53pm ET

New Orleans Saints WR Ted Ginn Jr. (thigh) was limited during practice Wednesday, Sept. 18.

Fantasy Spin: Ginn did not receive any targets last week and will need to adjust to a new quarterback. Fantasy players may need to see how he work with Teddy Bridgewater in a game before considering him a starting option.

From TheHuddle